By John Johnston / Enquirer staff writer
In black trousers and black-and-cream knit shirt, he blends in with the other young, uniformed grocery store employees.
Donny Walker 15, of Pleasant Ridge loads a customer's car with groceries in the parking lot outside the Kroger grocery store in Hyde Park
Friday June 18, 2004.
(The Enquirer/Brandi Stafford)
Maybe you don't notice him until he looks you in the eye and says from the end of the checkout aisle: "Hello, ma'am. Is plastic OK?"
He works quickly and methodically, separating cosmetics from food, keeping frozen items together, bagging it all up.
"Ma'am, your change," he says, pointing to a coin dispenser. Then: "Thank you, ma'am. Have a nice day."
Maybe you glance at his name badge. Donny, it says.
In May, Donny Walker began bagging groceries, rounding up shopping carts and cleaning scuff marks off the floor of the Hyde Park Kroger. He was hired after completing the Youth Works program, which teaches job-training skills to young people 14 to 17 who are entering the work force for the first time. It's a partnership between Kroger and the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati.
"I wanted a job," Donny says, "so I could have something positive to do, (and) make money."
This time of year, many teens are beginning their first paying jobs. And others are still looking.
After the April 2001 riots in Cincinnati, city and business leaders created a $2.2 million plan for 3,000 summer jobs for teens. But the goal was never reached; this year, it's expected to employ 1,100.
More funding sought
This month the scarcity of area summer jobs prompted State Rep. Tyrone Yates to ask Gov. Bob Taft for $4 million for youth employment and adult job-training programs. Yates wants the money to go to a program administered by the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative and Citizens Committee on Youth. A CYC official said more than 1,500 youth are on a waiting list for jobs.
But a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services said the state already has committed all it can to jobs programs.
Donny need not worry about all that. His father, Donald Shabazz, signed him up for Youth Works in the spring.
"I told him, from here on out, he'll probably be working," says Shabazz, lead telecommunication coordinator for Luxottica Retail.
Donny, a slender, shy 15-year-old from Pleasant Ridge, attends Shroder High School. He'll be a sophomore next fall. He earns mostly Bs, some Cs, and especially likes math. He plays basketball, enjoys video games and is reading Night, Elie Wiesel's tale of the horrors of the Holocaust.
On this recent Tuesday, he's wearing a red Shrek watch,a prize from a cereal box.
At noon, two hours before his five-hour Kroger shift begins, Donny leaves the apartment he shares with his twin brother, Dominique, and their father. He walks five minutes to a bus stop on Montgomery Road and catches the No. 4 to Evanston. Then he walks a few minutes to the corner of Dana and Trimble avenues and waits for the No. 64 to Hyde Park. If he's lucky, the wait's only half an hour.
One day, the 64 broke down just after he boarded. Donny was four minutes late for work. Another day, he says, he was three minutes late because he set his watch wrong.
Those mishaps notwithstanding, he's doing just fine.
"He is an exceptional young man," says Sonya Taylor, human resources manager for the Hyde Park Kroger.
Myrtle Beach is a goal
Donny makes $5.90 an hour, and says he'll soon be eligible for a nickel raise. With his first paycheck, he bought a pair of Nike Air Force 1 shoes, which he wears to work.
He plans to save up for a trip his family will take to Myrtle Beach, S.C., this summer. Also, for school clothes.
"Do you want these in a bag?" he asks a woman purchasing cat litter.
"Do you want me to double-bag it?" he asks a woman who requests a paper sack.
"Can I help you out?" he asks Ife Judkins of East Walnut Hills. Her shopping cart is brimming with groceries.
"You are so sweet, yes," she says.
As he places Judkins' groceries into a conversion van, one of her children, 6-year-old Boubacar Sow, notices the red watch on the bagger's wrist.
When the last bag's in the van, Judkins says, "May I tip you?"
Donny shakes his head. "We're not allowed." It's the second tip he has declined within the hour.
Judkins, pleased with his service, asks for his name.
But nobody's more pleased than little Boubacar. He's the happy new owner of a red Shrek wristwatch.
We welcome your suggestions. Contact John Johnston at 768-8516; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Youth Works trains for success
Since 1998, Youth Works has offered job training to teens age 14 to 17 who are entering the workforce for the first time. The program is a partnership between Kroger and the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati.